Years ago, while working for a top advertising agency, I met a Peruvian woman who was assigned to assist the media department with the current workload. Within days, she was so frustrated saying to me every time she tried to make contact with one of our suppliers they were never there. She said “Don’t you people [Trinbagonians] start work at 8am?” It was then I realized that cultural differences, once not fully understood can lead to stress and can be a marketer’s worst nightmare

In marketing, it is imperative that you understand the culture of the people you are trying to reach. That will literally dictate how you speak to your audience and how you position your product. For example, in Trinidad & Tobago our some of our cultural norms are as follows:

  • Weekdays are reserved for work/school.
  • Friday afternoons and nights are reserved for ‘after work limes’. Persons frequent various bars and restaurants to de-stress after a work week and usher in the weekend. There is an upsurge in the amount of alcoholic beverages consumed
  • Saturday mornings are usually reserved for extra curricular activities, housework and/or general shopping (grocery, etc), while Saturday nights, persons tend to go out to socialize at clubs, parties, cinema, etc. Sundays are more relaxed. Persons may go out, but usually as a family and mainly on afternoons
  • Long weekends occur when a holiday falls on a Friday or Monday. Persons take advantage of this by partying for an extra day, however the day before they are due to go back into work/school will be a day of relaxation. If a holiday falls on either a Tuesday or a Thursday with one working day in between, that working day is usually taken as vacation or a ‘sick’ day
  • Some long weekends are synonymous with certain outdoor activities, such as, Easter Sunday numerous people will be engaged in kite flying throughout the island.
  • Though not a holiday, Ash Wednesday persons frequent the beaches. The most popular is Maracas Beach
  • Trinidadians usually go to the sister isle Tobago to relax. Though this may happen periodically throughout the year especially over long weekends. There is, however, a marked increase during the July/August period.
  • Both Trinidadians and Tobagonians are very much into football, cricket and track and field. Major accomplishments by national heroes in the field of sport are usually accompanied by spontaneous street celebrations and calls for alcoholic beverages and ‘a day off from work’

I know reading the above some of you may have chuckled and shook your head, but do you see, now that I have listed them, how culture determines our behavior and purchasing habits? While this seems very normal to us, to a foreigner looking to infiltrate our market this is vital information. They will understand that, based on the product or service they are offering, how and when will be the ideal time to promote and launch, understand the frame of mind persons will be in to receive the product and the right creative (language, visuals, tone, copy, media, etc) to be used to effectively connect with their audience and make the messaging more appealing.

While some activities have been ingrained over years, a marketer must also be aware of emerging trends and capitalize. It has only been in the last few years that suppliers of ‘roti skins’ have positioned their product as a ‘must have’ for Indian Arrival Day and Divali or a trip to Maracas Beach must end with the purchase of a ‘bake & shark’. A marketer knows, sees and creates opportunities to position products and services to their ideal customers once they understand the thinking and, can actually create cultural norms within a society.

Not doing the relevant research, can result in loss of brand credibility, revenue, customers and being famous for all the wrong reasons.  Some major international cultural blunders by well known brands include (find more examples

  1. When Gerber, a Nestle owned purveyor of baby foods first started selling their baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the USA – with the cute baby on the label. Later they found out that in Africa companies routinely put pictures on the label of what is inside the package, since most people cannot read.
  2. When Puffs tissues tried to introduce its product, they were quick to learn that “Puff” in German is a colloquial term for a whorehouse
  3. In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into “Schweppes Toilet Water”

Granted the above is super embarrassing on an international scale, it is the type of things that could have been avoided by doing the proper research and knowing the target audience.

Cultural norms are the backbone of any society and, as a marketer it is so necessary to know and understand the people and what drives them. It quite literally molds and shapes every single thing a society does and believes in. It shapes their behavior, governs their thought processes, and affects every aspect of their lives.  Regardless of international, regional or local, knowing your ideal customer inside and out is the beginning of stress free marketing

If you would like know how to truly identify your ideal target call (868) 3551567 or email and book your FREE 30min consultation and ask how you can get my new eBook “Finding your ideal customer”. I also invite you to join my free Facebook group of marketing elites The New SMS: Strategic Marketing Specialists and get inspired and take your business marketing to a whole other level